White Christmas

Well good morning, Constant Reader, and I hope your Saturday is off to a lovely start. I actually missed blogging yesterday–I had started the entry, but wasn’t able to finish before I had to start my work-at-home start time, and by the time I was finished for the day, it was time for the gym, and somehow I never got back here to finish. Deepest apologies, Constant Reader.

It’s chilly this morning in the Lost Apartment, but the sun is bright and shining and it looks absolutely beautiful outside this morning, which is kind of cool. I don’t have to leave the house all weekend other than the gym tomorrow, which is lovely, and I’m hoping to get some good work on the book done today. The last two days I was low energy and unable to think about getting much done, let alone do anything, so today I really need to press my nose to the grindstone and push myself to get back on track. Chapter Eighteen is proving a very tough nut to crack, but I am very pleased with the book (for a change) and am looking very forward to getting back into the groove with it.

LSU’s final game of the football season is today, against Mississippi (I refuse to call them ole miss anymore) and this can go either one of two ways: the Tigers can show up ready to play, for each other, Coach O, and the fanbase; or they can be cocky and overconfident after the Florida win, and get punched in the mouth. I’ll be watching, laptop in my lap, under my electric blanket (honestly, last night I honestly felt that human evolution, progress and civilization all culminated in the invention of the electric blanket), and hoping for the best. It’s a rivalry game called the Magnolia Bowl, and Mississippi hasn’t beaten LSU since 2015, so you know they’re hungry under their new coach, Lane Kiffin. LSU loses and they have their first losing season since 1999; win and they finish 5-5 in a crazy season.

But whatever happens, nothing can take away that win over Florida and ruining their season last weekend, which I am just petty enough to really enjoy.

We finished watching The Flight Attendant Thursday night, and the final episode was perhaps the best one of the entire run; as I have mentioned before, Kaley Cuoco is quite charismatic and likable, like Jennifer Aniston, and even though her character is primarily not very likable, she always is, and that’s an important quality for an actress…although I am rather curious about their flight schedules, because unless things have changed, I don’t think flight crews would work Rome flights as well as Bangkok. There was also a really convoluted secondary subplot that apparently only existed as a reason for one of the other flight attendants to have a gun which he needed to have, in the season finale (it was an incredible length to go to avoid the appearance of contrivance, actually; one almost has to respect the authorial commitment to it), but all the main story was properly wrapped up by the end of the finale, and there was even an opening left for a continuation of the show–also not probable, but it was kind of a nice bow tied up on the final package.

And of course, last night was the conclusion of The Mandalorian. No spoilers, but it was a pretty epic way to end the series, and I am really looking forward to The Book of Boba Fett. I think the series is now officially over–they certainly tied everything up neatly and concluded the story of the Child and Mando–and that pleases me if it is the case; the show was absolutely perfect, and as someone said on Twitter last night, “The best Star Wars movie is The Mandalorian” and I cannot disagree with that sentiment.

It’s hard to believe Christmas, frankly is next week; but this entire year has been a weird one, time has seemed to drag more than any other time, while at the same time it’s almost a relief to have made it this far. 2020 was a deeply unpleasant year, but there were some bright spots. I see everyone doing their “best of 2020” lists and I frankly can’t remember what I’ve watched and what I’ve read, other than I enjoyed almost every bit of it. I had long dry spells where I didn’t write anything, and long spells where all I wrote was the first 500 to 1000 or so words of short story before being stopped dead in my tracks. I still need to get this book revision finished so I can finish my story for the MWA anthology submissions deadline. This final part of the book is the hard part, so I suppose it’s not a surprise that it’s kind of kicking my ass.

This week was a double-feature for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, beginning with The French Connection, an Oscar winning film (including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actor for Gene Hackman) which doesn’t, I’m afraid, play well through a modern lens. I can see why the film was so impactful and impressive back in 1971, but now it plays like a lesser episode of NYPD Blue or Hill Street Blues. It was a gritty, dirty, almost documentary-like movie about a drug investigation, based on a book about a real drug bust–with the cops’ names changed to protect them. Gene Hackman is terrific as Popeye Doyle; Roy Schieder is equally good as his partner..but all I could think as I watched was, “well, that’s a violation of their civil rights” or “ah, nothing like glorifying police brutality” or “well, that entire scene was a fairly accurate depiction of racial profiling.” Popeye is an unashamed racist; the n-word pops up every now and then, and of course ethnic slurs abound–Little Italy is referred to as “Dagotown”, there’s some anti-Semitism, and of course, the French are referred to as “frogs”–but it does also have some great moments: the chase scene involving Popeye trying to catch a fugitive on an elevated train was pretty impressively shot and edited. Hackman is terrific in the role, even if Popeye is the kind of cop who would think nothing of killing a suspect in his custody….The French Connection ultimately is a pro-police violence film that tries to justify the behavior of cops who violate civil rights and are violent and abusive as necessary, and that, to me, is problematic. As far as awards go, among the films it beat out for the Oscar are The Last Picture Show (which is one of my favorite movies of all time), Fiddler on the Roof (the kind of big-budget, lavish musical that would have won the Oscar a few years earlier), Nicholas and Alexandra (another big budget extravaganza I started watching but quickly got bored with–and would have been a shoe-in for Best Picture in the 1980’s) and of course, Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

Second up was the 1974 film version of Ian Fleming’s Live and Let Die, which was the eighth Bond film and the second novel in the series. It’s also one of the few Bond films I ever saw in the theater, and was my first Bond film. It was Roger Moore’s first outing as Bond, and it was also when the tone and tenor of the Bond films switched, IMHO–I’d have go back and watch the Connery ones again to be certain. But while Connery occasional got off the clever quip or one-liner, the films were very serious and almost grim; Moore had more of a comic sense of the character and with him in the role, the character became more cartoonish and the films more outlandish (Moonraker was completely absurd) and there are many moments in Live and Let Die where, if you think about them too long, don’t make sense: how did he know to bring a deck of tarot cards with him in which all the cards were “The Lovers,” and where did he get that deck in the first fucking place? (And this doesn’t even take into consideration the fact that he basically manipulated Solitaire’s belief in the cards to get her into bed–which is rape because she was deceived into giving consent, PROBLEMATIC) There are any number of these contrivances in the plot of the film; but at the same time Live and Let Die also gave cinema it’s first Black Bond Girl, Rosie Carver (played by Gloria Hendry) and Bond’s first interracial romance, as well as the series’ first Black villains. The movie isn’t nearly as racist as the book–but it’s not exactly an achievement the Bond series should be proud of, either. But it gave the under-appreciated Yaphet Kotto a good role as Prime Minister Kananga, and introduced Jane Seymour to the world. I think I may need to read the book again–I should revisit the original Bond series, really–but one thing about Live and Let Die I do appreciate is that parts of it were filmed in New Orleans and along Bayou Des Allemandes; Louisiana looks beautiful, as does the Quarter–and this is one of those early influences on my youthful mind where I first felt the pull of New Orleans and Louisiana.

But it also boasts one of the best Bond theme songs, by Paul McCartney (or rather, Wings); it was the first time a pop band was selected to do the theme song, and it was the first Bond theme to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Song.

Yesterday I got my copy of The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson by Robert Hofler in the mail yesterday, which is the final piece (or one of the final pieces) of Chlorine background research I need to get started on the outline/plotting. My main character is a pretty boy with not much discernible talent who has a Henry Willson-like agent, whom he shares with the murder victim; I have to say the entire story of Willson, his pretty boy clients and their sexuality, endlessly fascinates me, and I am really excited to be writing a period piece gay Hollywood noir–well, eventually, at any rate. I started dipping into the book some last night and am enjoying it thoroughly. I also got a copy of Lawrence Block’s anthology From Sea to Shining Sea, which is crime stories inspired by ‘great American paintings’, and am really looking forward to digging into that. I also got a copy of Night Terrors: The Ghost Stories of E. F. Benson, because you can never have enough ghost stories around to read.

And on that note, I have some laundry to fold, a dishwasher to unload, and writing to do–so if you will excuse me for a moment, Constant Reader, I am going to head back into the spice mines.

Mad Woman

And now we ease into Friday and what will hopefully be an enormously productive weekend for one Gregalicious.

Yesterday was a lovely day, if not as productive as one would have hoped. When five pm rolled around, my mind was fried from the condom packing (I watched The Stunt Man while making them; more on that later) and so instead, I cleaned up around here and did some brainstorming. I did a shit ton of laundry last night, and did some other cleaning as well….but I really hate that I didn’t get to the book yesterday evening. Definitely tonight it’s on my agenda, and hopefully if I stay motivated I can get quite a bit finished this weekend. I am still hoping to get this draft version finished before next weekend, so I can stick to the plan of writing some short stories next week before getting back to the final polish on this manuscript so I can get it turned in. The next deadline–the two months for #shedeservedit–is going to be much rougher on me than this revision was, so getting this one finished sooner rather than later is definitely something I need to be focused on.

We watched The Flight Attendant’s new episodes last night–I’m not sure why the release two at a time, quite frankly–but it definitely feels like the show is being padded to fill it out to the necessary (or needed) length. My mind started to wander during the first of the two episodes, but the second one picked up and became more interesting. Kaley Cuoco is a very charming and likable actress, so playing such an unlikable character is, I am sure, quite a stretch for her as an actress; yet the character is so unlikable–and as the show progresses, becomes more and more unlikable–that it becomes very hard to continue rooting for her as she makes bad decision after bad decision–and of course, she is clearly an alcoholic, and the alcoholic fog helps keep her from dealing with her own deeply problematic past. There were some big reveals in the second episode–although one was pretty predictable from the get-go, and the second one didn’t make nearly as much sense as the writers perhaps wanted it to; I won’t get into it here because SPOILERS, but while the show is very well done there are some things that feel rather self-indulgent and unearned. But Kuoco is, as I said, eminently likable and interesting to watch, so we’ll probably see it all the way through.

I signed a contract yesterday to allow Wildside Press to republish my story “Annunciation Shotgun” on the Black Cat Ebook Site as a “Barb Goffman Presents”, which is very exciting. “Annunciation Shotgun” was one of my first mainstream publications for a story with queer characters–although the queerness wasn’t important to the story, which was part of it’s subversive fun, and made it incredibly fun to write–and I do love the story. It was originally published in New Orleans Noir over a decade ago, and of course, was included in my collection Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories; in fact, I had originally intended to call the collection Annunciation Shotgun and Other Stories. Ironically, part of the credit for the idea for the story belongs to none other than Poppy Z. Brite; I was reading his novel Liquor and at one point, the book made reference to Ricky and G-man living in a shotgun house on Constantinople Street, and I thought to myself, “Constantinople Shotgun is a great title” and I thought about gay friendships and having that one friend who always seems to be an agent of chaos–the one you’re always have to bail out but he’s so charming and lovable you always, always, get out of bed and throw on some clothes and run bail him out of whatever he’s gotten himself into. It was also born out of my fascination with how we live in such intimate closeness to neighbors here in New Orleans–shotgun houses means you share a wall running the length of the house with someone who might be a complete stranger–and that invasive intimacy with people you barely know is something I’ve turned to, again and again, in my short stories. I started writing it originally when the idea struck; when I was asked to write for New Orleans Noir I was assigned the lower Garden District as my neighborhood, which is where I’ve always lived in New Orleans since moving here–which meant the title no longer worked; Constantinople Street is in Uptown. But Annunciation Street runs through the LGD (it also runs all the way uptown to Riverbend), and it’s an unusual, multi-syllabic name, so I chose it for the title. (I still love the title “Constantinople Shotgun”–but I don’t know that I can get away with writing another “shotgun” titled story; but “Constantinople Camelback” is also not a bad title….hmmmmm.)

But I do love the story, and am glad that this opportunity has presented itself…and I’m making a title note to use “Constantinople Camelback” because of course I am.

I’m also waiting impatiently to get the final cover design for Bury Me in Shadows because I’ve seen it and I love it, and it’s one of my favorites of my own books thus far. The book itself is taking shape nicely; I am refusing to listen to my doubts and imposter syndrome and choosing instead to believe in myself and my abilities and skill as a writer.

So, other than refreshing my mailbox, my plans for the weekend include revising at least four chapters of the book, perhaps some thinking about the short story I want to submit to the newest MWA anthology (I swear to GOD I will get a story accepted into one of those anthologies if it kills me), and I definitely want to finish reading The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.

So, yesterday I watched The Stunt Man. I saw it many many years ago–I think maybe on one of the pay cable networks in the early 1980’s? HBO, perhaps?–and it was so strange and so interesting that it really took my fancy. I fucking loved Peter O’Toole, since I watched him and Richard Burton chew up the scenery in Becket, and this was only the second film of his I’d seen. He got an Oscar nomination for this–losing to Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs. Kramer, of all things; O’Toole’s failure to win a competitive Oscar is one of the biggest crimes of the Academy–and while this movie isn’t my favorite of his, I’ve always wanted to rewatch it. Essentially, the plot of the movie is this: Steve Railsback (breathtaking in his youthful beauty) is an escaped convict, or is on the run from the cops (and we never really find out why), and he is also a Vietnam vet. While he is running he accidentally stumbles into a movie set and is responsible (this responsibility never really makes sense to me, and over the course of the movie becomes even more and more weird) for the death of a stunt man. The crazed director, Eli, played by Peter O’Toole, doesn’t want to stop filming as he is on a tight schedule and also doesn’t want to deal with the scandal involved with a stunt man’s s death, so he makes a deal with the Railsback character–fill in for the dead stuntman so they can cover it up until the movie is finished, get paid, or turn himself in. Railsback becomes a stuntman–some of the best scenes in the film are him working with a veteran to learn how to do the stunts without harming himself (note: the performance of the guy teaching him to do stunts–an actual stuntman named Chuck Bail–should have gotten an Oscar nomination at least) and of course, O’Toole is stunningly brilliant, as he is in everything. Barbara Hershey is also terrific as the actress Railsback falls for…I also had no idea it was based on a book, which I am now going to have to read. It’s also very cynical–definitely fits in the the Cynical 70’s Film Festival.

Sigh, Peter O’Toole. So talented, so gorgeous. My Favorite Year is also one of my all-time favorite movies, and his failure to win an Oscar as fading star and alcoholic Alan Swann is yet another Academy crime. It’s one of the great performances of all time, and I’ve also always thought someone should turn that movie into a television series–a behind the scenes look at how a television show like that in the 1950’s was made–with a new guest star in every episode and so on. (Just send me my check, Netflix, and you’re welcome.)

Not sure what today’s film is going to be, but it may be another O’Toole 70’s classic, The Ruling Class.

And on that note tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

Lover

And now it’s the day after the holiday, where Americans ignore all sanity and safety precautions and slam into stores long before sun-up for bargains and to get their Christmas shopping finished. I don’t know if this is actually happening this year or not–I flatly refuse to participate in the nonsense of greedy consumerism (the antithesis of the holiday they intend to celebrate) known as Black Friday; for years, this was the day I drove home to New Orleans from Kentucky. In these pandemic times, I have not bothered to find out what the retailers are planning or planned in terms of safety and so forth; there was no need for me to know, frankly, and at some point today I’ll go to some news sites and see the horrors that transpired for myself.

No thank you.

I finished reading The Hot Rock yesterday, which I enjoyed very much, and then moved on to Night of Camp David, by Fletcher Knebel, which is also interesting. Knebel–I don’t know if anyone else remembers him, but he used to write political thrillers back in the 60’s and 70’s (probably the best known work of his would be Seven Days in May, primarily because it was also made into a film, and the subject–the US and the USSR on the brink of nuclear war–was timely and always in the back of everyone’s mind, right up until the day the USSR collapsed). I’ve never been a big fan of political thrillers, to be honest–political fiction has never really interested me too much, primarily because the reality is too much like fiction as it is, and for another, so much world building to do, even if you simply take the US government and political system as it is and simply graft your story and characters onto it–even if you use the actual history as the history of your new world. Paul and I avoided The West Wing for years for this very reason–why get vested in a fictional world of American politics when the real world is right there in front of you all the time–but we discovered it one day when Bravo used to do the marathons all the time, and went back and watched it from the beginning, and it remains one of our favorite shows of all time.

So, it’s entirely possible I would thoroughly enjoy political thrillers after all–I’ve certainly enjoyed, or at least never minded, when thrillers (like those of Robert Ludlum) brushed up against reality or created their own fictional American political world.

Like I don’t have enough to read already, right?

I was reminded of Knebel and his work back sometime during the past four years, as some website (maybe Crime Reads?) did a piece on this particular book, which had returned to print, and focused on a president who was losing his sanity, and the only person who really was aware is the first term, junior senator from Iowa, whom the president has taken a liking to, and keeps inviting to Camp David for late night conversations where the president tells him his insane, Fascistic intentions for his second term. (Yeah, can’t imagine what triggered the publisher to bring this back into print, can you?) I had never read Knebel back in the day, but reading this piece made me curious, not only about this book but about Knebel in general. The Cynical 70’s Film Festival has also reminded me of the deeply cynical political fictions of the time (I really want to read The Manchurian Candidate)–so many thrillers set in or around politics back in the day–and, of course, conspiracy theories flourished. (The true heyday of the JFK conspiracy theories was clearly the 1970’s.)

All in all, yesterday was a highly enjoyable, relaxing day; today will be more of the same. Sure, I did some cleaning–I cleaned out two of my kitchen cabinets, reorganizing them to make them more functional–and of course i made a turkey roast in the slow cooker, which was quite marvelous. We finished watching season one of Mystery Road, which was quite good, and then moved on to the first three episodes of the HBO MAX series, The Flight Attendant, which was based on a Chris Bohjalian novel, and stars Kaley Cuoco of The Big Bang Theory in the lead. Cuoco is tremendously appealing and quite talented. Working the first class cabin on a flight to Bangkok, she becomes involved with one of her passengers, played by Michiel Huisman, and agrees to go to dinner with him in Bangkok. She blacks out during the evening–she’s an alcoholic and in severe denial about it–and wakes up next to his bloody, dead body (his throat was cut) and has absolutely zero memory of the evening before. It’s an interesting mystery, and as I said, Cuoco is terrific in the lead, and is surrounded by a terrific cast.

There really aren’t enough books–particularly crime thrillers–built around flight crews, frankly. I kept thinking about that last night as I watched; I have a short story in progress about a gay flight attendant called “The White Knuckler”, which I’ve never finished, and it also reminded me of how much I love the Vicki Barr Stewardess mystery series for kids.

So, what’s on the agenda for today? At some point I need to get to the gym, and of course the kitchen is in ruins. I am probably going to clean up the mess in the kitchen this morning, then move onto my easy chair to read some more, and then I am going to write all afternoon before going to the gym. Since we watched all the episodes of The Flight Attendant that are currently available–there won’t be a new one again until Thursday–we’re going to need to find something else to watch tonight to entertain us. Which can sometimes prove challenging, but there are worse things.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.